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James Barrett Reston (November 3, 1909December 6, 1995) (nicknamed "Scotty") was an Americanmarker journalist whose career spanned the mid 1930s to the early 1990s. Associated for many years with The New York Times, he became perhaps the most powerful, influential, and widely-read journalist of his era.


Reston was born in Clydebankmarker, Scotlandmarker into a poor, devout Scottish-Presbyterian family, which emigrated to the United States in 1920. He sailed with his mother and sister to New York as steerage passengers on board the SS Mobile and they were inspected at Ellis Islandmarker on September 28, 1920. After working briefly for the Springfield, Ohiomarker Daily News, he joined the Associated Press in 1934. He moved to the Londonmarker bureau of the New York Times in 1939, but returned to New Yorkmarker in 1940. In 1942, he took leave of absence to establish a US Office of War Information in London. Rejoining the Times in 1945, Reston was assigned to Washington, D.C.marker, as national correspondent. In 1948, he was appointed diplomatic correspondent, followed by bureau chief and columnist in 1953.

Reston married his wife Sally (born Sarah Jane Fulton) on December 24, 1935, after meeting her at the University of Illinois. They had three sons; James, a journalist, non-fiction writer and playwright; Thomas, formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for public affairs and the deputy spokesman for the State Department; and Richard, the publisher of the Vineyard Gazette, a newspaper on Martha's Vineyardmarker.

In subsequent years, Reston served as associate editor of the Times from 1964 to 1968, executive editor from 1968 to 1969, and vice president from 1969 to 1974. He wrote a nationally syndicated column from 1974 until 1987, when he became a senior columnist. During the Nixon administration, he was on the master list of Nixon political opponents.

Reston retired from the Times in 1989.

Reston interviewed many of the world's leaders and wrote extensively about the leading events and issues of his time. He interviewed President John F. Kennedy immediately after the 1961 Vienna Summit with Nikita Khrushchev on the heels of the Bay of Pigs Invasion fiasco.

His books include Prelude to Victory (1942), The Artillery of the Press (1967), Sketches in the Sand (1967), and a memoir, Deadline (1991).


Reston won the Pulitzer Prize twice. The first was in 1945, for his coverage of the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, particularly an exclusive series that detailed how the delegates planned to set up the United Nations. Decades later, he revealed that his source was a former New York Times copy boy who was a member of the Chinese delegation. He received the second award in 1957 for his national correspondence, especially "his five-part analysis of the effect of President Eisenhower's illness on the functioning of the executive branch of the federal government." He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1986 and the Four Freedoms Award in 1991. He was also awarded the chevalier of the Légion d'honneur from France, the Order of St. Olav from Norway, Order of Merit from Chile, the Order of Leopold and honorary degrees from 28 universities.


During his lifetime, Reston was admired for his insight, fair-mindedness, balance, and wit, as well as his extensive contacts in the very highest echelons of power. Burt Barnes, writing in The Washington Post shortly after his death, observed that "Mr. Reston's work was required reading for top government officials, with whom he sometimes cultivated a professional symbiosis; he would be their sounding board and they would be his news sources." But former Times editor R.W. Apple also noted in The New York Times, "Mr. Reston was forgiving of the frailties of soldiers, statesmen and party hacks -- too forgiving, some of his critics said, because he was too close to them." Reston's intimacy with those in power was seen to cloud his judgement and make him overly beholden to his sources.

Reston had a particularly close relationship with Henry Kissinger and became one of his stalwart supporters in the media. At least eighteen conversations between the two are captured in transcripts released by the Department of State in response to FOIA requests. They document Reston volunteering to approach fellow Times columnist Anthony Lewis to ask him to moderate his anti-Kissinger texts and offering to plant a question in a press conference for the secretary. .

A.G. Noornai, reviewing the 2002 biography of Reston, described how his closeness to Kissinger later damaged him further:

Nixon had been re-elected. Kissinger returned from Paris with a peace deal. Reston praised him highly. Nixon, however, decided to bomb North Vietnammarker to demonstrate his support for the South. Reston did a story on December 13, 1972, based on his talks with Kissinger citing obstruction by Saigon, which was true. But he did not, could not, report what Kissinger had suppressed from him -- he was privy to the decision to bomb Hanoi. That happened five days after the story was published. Kissinger now tried to distance himself from it and Reston was taken in by his claims. Kissinger "undoubtedly opposes" the bombing, he wrote and tried to explain Kissinger's compulsions. Reston's line had not gone unnoticed. The December 13 column was the last straw. It harmed his reputation. Reston had spiked the Pentagon reporter's story because it conflicted with his perceptions. The reporter was proved right.

In his review of Reston's memoir, media pundit Eric Alterman wrote in The Columbia Journalism Review:

To read Reston on Henry Kissinger today is, as it was during the Nixon administration, a little embarrassing. (Reston once titled one of his columns "By Henry Kissinger with James Reston.") Nothing in his experience in Washington, Reston says over and over in these memoirs, "was ever quite as good or as bad as the fashionable opinion of the day," and he thinks of Kissinger as a prime example of this. [...] But in praising Kissinger, Reston is praising a man who regularly misled him, who wiretapped NSC staff members to determine who was leaking to reporters when they revealed his unconstitutional maneuverings, and who urged Nixon to prosecute Reston's newspaper for its constitutionally protected publication of the Pentagon Papers. During the infamous 1972 Christmas bombing of North Vietnam, Reston wrote of Kissinger that "he has said nothing in public about the bombing in North Vietnam, which he undoubtedly opposes... If the bombing goes on... Mr. Kissinger will be free to resign." The only problem with the interpretation, however, was that the bombings were Kissinger's idea. He misled Reston about his own position and then misled the White House staff about these conversations, finally admitting the truth when confronted with his phone records.

For these and other reasons, critics such as radical economist Edward S. Herman have come to regard Reston as an "apologist for US foreign policy." . Likewise, Noam Chomsky condemned his unwavering support for the 1965 US-backed coup in Indonesiamarker which eventually led to the deaths of some half a million people, and the bombing of the South Vietnamese countryside in 1967. .

Reston also displayed his affinity for the powerful when Sen. Edward Kennedy drove his car off the bridge at Chappaquiddick Islandmarker, resulting in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Summering at nearby Martha's Vineyardmarker, Reston filed the first account of the incident for the New York Times; his opening paragraph began, "Tragedy has again struck the Kennedy family." When managing editor A.M. Rosenthal saw Reston's copy, he reportedly replied in disgust, "This story isn't about the Kennedy family; it's about this girl."


In July 1971, Reston suffered appendicitis while visiting China with his wife. After his appendix was removed through conventional surgery at the Anti-Imperialist Hospital in Beijing, his post-operative pain was treated by Li Chang-yuan with acupuncture. The article he wrote for the Times describing his experience was the first time many Americans had heard of the traditional Chinese medical practice.


Stacks, John F. Scotty: James B. Reston and the Rise and Fall of American Journalism. (2002) ISBN 0-316-80985-3

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